It's a surreal experience, not least because there is not always a clear link between what is happening on stage and the lyrics of the songs. At one point two multi-coloured elephants saunter in. "Earth Song?" you might wonder. "At a push… 'Heal the World'?" Of course not - what else would it be but "Ben", that famous song about loyalty and nothing whatsoever about elephants. Once you become accustomed to the idea that the show is a sequence of non-sequiturs of dubious relevance it’s possible to see this as part of the charm. After all, nothing says "Beat It" like a man-sized dancing glove.
The lack of a star is the true downfall of the show. Cirque's acrobatics are rarely extraordinary enough to find their mark in such an enormous space, and since they aren’t being overwhelmed by the stunts the audience need a focus for their enthusiasm. The only obvious thread running through the piece comes in the form of a Mime in a white sequinned onesie who pops up repeatedly, often accompanied by a friend in a chimpanzee suit. Common sense says that he must represent Jackson himself, but other signifiers of his role are few and far between.
There are times when the audience is given exactly what they want to see. "I Just Can’t Stop Loving You" is accompanied by a breathtaking display of aerial spooning by two sparkly acrobats, and "Thriller" has had every Halloween costume available chucked at it for a full-scale performance of everyone’s favourite dance routine.
The medley at the end squeezes "Can You Feel It", "Billie Jean", "Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough" and "Black or White" into five minutes of genuinely exhilarating showmanship but, tellingly, the biggest applause is reserved for original footage of a young Michael singing " I’ll Be There".
Although this is good fun, and often a slightly taxing mental workout, it doesn’t quite fulfil any specific objective. There isn’t enough Michael Jackson to be a tribute, nor enough acrobatics to be a spectacle. The section in which a green-clad contortionist writhes menacingly out of the pages of a book is impressive but also, tragically, an unintentional metaphor for the reviews.
- Mel West